Why GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Is Awesome

With the Dungeon Fantasy Boxed Set Kickstarter active, this post will discuss why Dungeon Fantasy is an awesome game. GURPS Dungeon Fantasy is easily the bestselling gaming line for GURPS, and dungeon delving fantasy games in general make up the vast majority of the RPG market. It’s no accident that dungeon dives are so popular, so let’s discuss why!

This post will discuss why dungeon fantasy is awesome in two ways. First, I’ll discuss why the genre of fantasty-based dungeon adventures is so popular. Then, I’ll explore why the GURPS version of that genre, the Dungeon Fantasy line, stands out.

Fantasy Dungeons are Fun

There are a lot of varieties of dungeon-based fantasy, but most games revolve around some core similarities:

  • Larger-than-life heroes: The protagonists of dungeon fantasy games are Heroes with a capital H. They are capable of great feats and take on challenges that would kill lesser mortals. The power scale for dungeon games characters ranges from starting adventurers that already stand out as exceptional when compared to most people, all the way up to demigods that directly affect the forces of creation. As larger-than-life characters, players can imagine themselves as true champions in the world.
  • Life-and-death encounters: One of the key elements of the dungeon delving genre is combat against evildoers. Your adventurers can wipe out the orcs guarding the prized treasure, or they can go toe-to-toe with the supernatural beasts that have awakened in the deep. Players get a vicarious thrill from showing off their abilities in the face of deadly threats, and the dungeon fantasy genre provides endless encounters for characters to demonstrate feats of bravery, daring, and awesomeness.
  • Fantasy settings: Dungeon delving games generally take place in fantasy worlds inspired by great works like Beowulf, The Lord of the Rings, and The Wizard of Earthsea. In these worlds, humans are joined by other races like elves and dwarves, suggesting that the world is much larger and more mysterious than our own. Magic is real, and players are empowered to participate in a world that is affected by supernatural forces and creatures. The world is populated by mythic beasts like dragons and vampires, which pose challenges worthy of their larger-than-life protagonists. These environments carry rich tropes from world mythologies and primordial imagery that can embody the deepest human emotions. Put simply, fantasy brings to life millenia of human storytelling.
  • Dungeon delving adventures: The dungeons that the adventurers explore are themselves exciting because they build on the quest archetype. Dungeons can hide buried treasure, supernatural forces that must be defeated, and everything in between. Dungeons also bring danger. Explorers can be threatened by the physical environment, by the creatures that roam the depths, and by traps set to protect the prizes buried far beneath the surface.
  • Awe-inspiring missions: The goals of dungeon diving are exciting. Character can explore for lost treasures from legend or can search for   magical artifacts that can shift the world’s balance of power. They can also hunt villains that embody evil, or even attempt to prevent earth-shattering disasters and conflagrations.

GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Rocks

The Dungeon Fantasy line within GURPS is a phenomenal representation of the dungeon exploration genre. There are a lot of reasons to choose GURPS as your system for dungeon adventures.

New Player Friendly

Dungeon Fantasy box set preview
Dungeon Fantasy box set preview

If you are new to RPGs, GURPS Dungeon Fantasy is a great entry point to the RPG hobby:

  • Simple core mechanics: GURPS runs entirely on a simple 3d6 system. Roll 3 normal dice, add the result, and compare to your target number. Some of the game rules add details to this mechanic; for instance, the GM can modify your target number if the task is easier or harder than usual. But, the basic system is incredibly simple to understand.
  • Quick-start character templates: The character templates are straightforward. It’s easy for brand new players to be up and running quickly because they only need to make a couple of decisions in order to customize their character. Many RPGs require players to flip through multiple chapters of the characters book in order to create their adventurer; GURPS can lay out all your choices in short blocks of text.
  • “You describe it, you can try it”: GURPS is designed to enable players to describe what they want to do, and the GM can interpret that action into the game mechanics. For instance, characters don’t need to have a special ability in order to grapple or slam into their opponent; if the player wants to wrestle an opponent, he or she can attempt a skill roll. The character sheet becomes a reference tool instead of a crutch; the character’s options are as wide as the player’s imagination.
  • Player choices matter: every RPG needs to balance luck with player autonomy. GURPS errs on the side of making player choices matter. The 3d6 system creates a bell curve, so extreme results are rare. In practice, that means that players are less likely to be overcome by bad rolls of the dice, and it engages players by showing that they can directly influence the fate of their characters. Preparing for a challenge, making a smart tactical choice, or earning a bonus makes a bigger impact than raw luck.

For Experienced Players

Selected Dungeon Fantasy supplements
Selected Dungeon Fantasy supplements

Don’t be fooled into thinking that Dungeon Fantasy is just for new players! Because Dungeon Fantasy is built on the GURPS system, it has tons of options to meet every player’s needs.

  • Variety of character choices: The templates for GURPS Dungeon Fantasy permit the players to choose a wide range of character builds. The Kickstarter package includes nine racial backgrounds and eleven character professions; the full published Dungeon Fantasy line goes up to hundreds of worked character options.
  • Active defense: GURPS features active defenses; when a character is attacked, they get to choose how to defend themselves and attempt a skill roll. This adds a level of tactical thinking that is absent from RPGs that just roll against a passive defense (like an armor class level). In GURPS, players have meaningful decisions about how to stay safe in combat. Deciding to block an attack with a shield is mechanically different than trying to dodge an attack, and those differences make combat feel more interesting.
  • No second-class skills: Many dungeon diving RPGs place a premium on combat, and other adventuring activities get short shrift. Because GURPS is a skill-based system, combat skills like Brawling or Missile spells are governed by the same mechanics as non-combat skills like Diplomacy, Streetwise, and Hidden Lore. That means that your game is not limited to hack-and-slash playing—unless you want it to be!
  • Extensive supplements: The GURPS Dungeon Fantasy line is one of the best supported RPGs out there. SJ Games has published literally dozens of volumes that add options for characters, monsters, treasure, magic, allies and henchmen, adventures in town or in the wilderness, and more. In addition, the monthly Pyramid magazine publishes dungeon fantasy articles on a regular basis. Odds are good that GURPS has a dungeon fantasy supplement for whatever direction you want to take your game.
  • Full GURPS compatibility: Because Dungeon Fantasy is built on the GURPS ruleset, players can tap the full breadth of GURPS resources for their games. If you want to include gadgeteering or high technology into your dungeon game, the GURPS technology volumes stand at the ready. If you want to customize the magic system to use rituals, petitions to the spirit world, or rune-based invocations, you can incorporate rules from the Thaumatology line. GURPS Martial Arts unlocks tons of combat options; Social Engineering brings a similar depth to political intrigue, negotiating, and other interpersonal encounters. In short: if you want to take your game in a new direction, chances are good that GURPS has a way to do it.
  • Universal system: GURPS is a universal system, so it can run scenarios that are published for any game system. If you find an interesting adventure, it doesn’t matter if it’s designed for a different game. You can run it in GURPS.

2 thoughts on “Why GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Is Awesome”

  1. GURPS already has the ability to service this genre of game. They already have 15 Dungeon Fantasy books. Why should I chuck all of that, and the generic aspects of the greater GURPS system, in order to play a revamped version?

    1. Great question. The audience for the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game is people who may not be familiar with GURPS already. It’s designed as an easier entry point that is focused on the rules that are relevant for dungeon fantasy–and stripping away or hiding all the stuff from the Basic Set that isn’t important.

      If you already have the Dungeon Fantasy books and the Basic Set, the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game is a more organized and easier to read presentation. The new content is primarily on the GM’s side – there are two new dungeon adventures as well as catalogs for traps, magic items, and monsters. That may be worth the cost, but there’s nothing wrong with deciding that the existing DF line meets your needs.

      However, if you haven’t already bought the DF line, then DFRPG is a better value and a more beginner-friendly product. In that case, I would recommend buying DFRPG instead of the previous DF materials.

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